Astronomers on Monday made a “big” announcement about exoplanets, and it is big – literally. Another new world has been discovered, which is quite routine now these days, but this one is different, and unexpected; a planet which is more than twice as large as Earth and about 17 times heavier, a sort of “mega-Earth” as some have referred to it. Nothing else like it has been seen before, until now. The new discovery was announced at a press conference during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).
Category Archives: Kepler
There is some good news for planet-hunters this week: The proposed K2 mission extension for the Kepler Space Telescope has been been approved by NASA. The approval, based on a recommendation from the agency’s 2014 Senior Review, means that the Kepler mission will have at least two more years to continue its search for exoplanets, after having already found thousands of planetary candidates and nearly a thousand confirmed planets to date.
Today was another big day for those interested in space exploration, and the search for other Earth-like alien worlds in particular – the first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting another star in the habitable zone has been discovered, it was announced by astronomers with the Kepler space telescope mission.
There was more exciting exoplanet news this week from the Kepler mission: the space telescope has confirmed 715 new exoplanets! This brings the current total number of such worlds to 1,766, of which 961 have been found by Kepler. There are still also 3,601 other Kepler planetary candidates awaiting confirmation.
Most of us are used to the (usually) gradually changing seasons here on Earth, but astronomers have found an exoplanet where the changes are much more rapid and unpredictable because the planet wobbles like a toy top. The new discovery was announced yesterday, February 4, by scientists from the Kepler space telescope mission.
The planet, Kepler 413-b, orbits a pair of stars 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It orbits its stars, an orange dwarf and a red dwarf, every 66 days. What’s unusual is that the planet wobbles wildly on its spin axis, which can vary by up to 30 degrees every 11 years. That’s pretty extreme compared to Earth, which shifts its axis by only 23.5 degrees over 26,000 years.
This variation makes it harder to track the planet’s orbit, since Kepler studies exoplanets by watching their transits across the front of their stars as views from Earth. Because of the wobbling, the planet isn’t always visible as a transit.
“Looking at the Kepler data over the course of 1,500 days, we saw three transits in the first 180 days – one transit every 66 days – then we had 800 days with no transits at all. After that, we saw five more transits in a row,” said Veselin Kostov, principal investigator and affiliated with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.
Peter McCullough, a team member with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, adds:
“Presumably there are planets out there like this one that we’re not seeing because we’re in the unfavourable period. And that’s one of the things that Veselin is researching: Is there a silent majority of things that we’re not seeing?”
As for habitability, Kepler 413-b isn’t a likely candidate, as it is a super-Neptune sized gas giant which orbits close to its two stars and is therefore much too hot.
Although Kepler is now non-functioning due to mechanical problems (with a possible modified secondary mission now being planned), there is still a lot of data yet to sift through and astronomers expect to still find many more exoplanets and maybe even exomoons.
This article was first published on Examiner.com.
There was a lot of disappointment when it was announced that the crippled Kepler Space Telescope would not be able to continue its search for exoplanets after a malfunction left it unable to stabilize enough to focus properly. There was some comfort in the knowledge that there was still a lot of its original data to go through, and that a few thousand planetary candidates had already been found. But now, it seems that Kepler’s assumed death may have been a bit premature.
Some exciting exoplanet news this week: based on the newest data from the Kepler space telescope, astronomers now estimate that there are billions of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy which are about the same size as Earth and orbit in the habitable zone of their stars, it was announced yesterday.
For the first time, an exoplanet orbiting another star has been discovered which is similar to Earth in size, mass and composition, it was announced today. Astronomers confirmed the finding using data from the Kepler space telescope.
Patchy clouds in the west and clear skies in the east. That is the current weather forecast, not for anywhere on Earth, but for a much more distant world in another solar system. For the first time, astronomers have been able to map cloud patterns on such a far-away exoplanet, it was announced on September 30, 2013.
The Kepler space telescope has been nothing short of incredible, revolutionizing our understanding of exoplanets and showing just how common and diverse they really are (as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction). Recently, however, additional mechanical problems have started plaguing the mission, threatening to cut it short. The news during the past few weeks has been pessimistic, declaring that Kepler’s planet-hunting days are all but over. But there is still hope, as announced by the mission’s engineering team, that further testing later this month can help to resolve the situation.